Landscape Design

There is no easy way to teach landscape design and most home gardeners cringe at the thought of it, however, I’d like to introduce you to one particular landscape design concept that you might find interesting and useful, that of landscape mass and landscape void.

Every landscape is made up of masses of plants and areas void of plants — areas planted and areas that are open. Often the balance between the planted and the open spaces, and the arrangement of the planted and open spaces can determine the overall effectiveness of a landscape design.

Where The Voids Are
A void in landscaping could be a lawn, or an expanse of ground cover or gravel. It could also be a patio or garden pool. A void is simply an open area in the landscape. The key to landscape design is that you can plan and shape the void, rather than just let it happen by accident. For example, my wife and I are in the process of landscaping our three acre property. We are planning and planting a screen of evergreens on the western edge of our property to provide some privacy from the neighboring lot. Between the evergreen screen and the house we are planning to develop a small, perhaps 40 foot diameter, oval lawn area. Near the house this oval lawn area, the void, will be surrounded by small shrubs. Thus, we’ll end up with a wonderful small, almost hidden, oval lawn area surrounded by short shrubs to the north and south, and large evergreens to the west.

Developing the Masses
Voids are most effective when surrounded by a significant amount of mass. The mass is the planted areas of the home landscape. Too often we plant in straight narrow rows. We line up shrubs across the front of the house, or across the back fence. We neglect trying to develop depth and mass in our planting, and yet it is mass that so nicely sets off the voids. In most cases it is best to have an orderly transition between the masses and voids in the landscape. For example, start with a flower border. Back it with low-growing shrubs, behind which you plant taller growing shrubs. Finally, add a collection of trees. Pay attention to the way the mass of plants will appear when standing, or sitting, in the void.

One thing I like to do is have a void area immediately outside a frequently used window in the house. When you look out the window you see across the void to the mass planting. I try to develop this mass planting area to be as interesting and attractive as possible when seen from the window.

Mystery in the Landscape
If your yard is large enough often you can have two void areas divided by a large mass planting and then develop a connecting pathway between the voids. As you travel through the path you catch glimpses of the approaching void and this creates a bit of mystery as to what’s just around the bend. Often a piece of statuary, or something as simple as a birdbath, can be placed in the voids to act as a focal point. If the mass planting area is large enough the path can be made to twist and wind with interesting plants scattered along the way to lead you through to the next void.

Think About It
As you walk in and through your yard this spring think about the arrangement of the masses and voids in your landscape. Then think about ways to improve their relationships to each other. This type of landscape exploration is foreign to many gardeners but it really helps in making those basic landscape design changes that pay big dividends in the long run.

Integrated Pest Management

Remove weeds from your lawn before they set seed. You can use a trowel or asparagus knife to remove weeds like dandelion, plantain, and clover if there are only a few of them. If you don’t have time to pull the weeds, spot treat weedy areas with a selective herbicide for broadleaf weeds. Do not spray on a windy day and be sure to use a sprayer that produces a coarse spray rather than a fine mist to avoid drift that is harmful to other plants in your landscape. You can also prepare a small amount of herbicide and use a disposable sponge and disposable rubber glove to wipe the herbicide on the weed foliage.

Check wild cherry trees and apples for Eastern tent caterpillars. During the day, the fuzzy black caterpillars rest in silken webs in the crotches between branches. Remove the nests, caterpillars and all. A stick or pole may be helpful for removing nests that are out of reach.

If you’re doing some spring mulching, be sure to do the job right. Use no more than two inches of mulch and keep it a few inches away from the trunks of trees to prevent decay of the bark. Avoid covering the crowns of perennials or shrubs with mulch, since it encourages diseases such as Southern blight.

Instead of purchasing beneficial insects, conserve those that nature sends your way. Spray pesticides only when it is absolutely necessary, and treat only the plants that are being attacked by pests or diseases. Whenever possible, use a reduced-risk pesticide such as horticultural oil, insecticidal soap, or neem seed extract to combat pests and diseases. These pesticides have minimal impact on beneficial insects. Look for insect predators when you note a burgeoning insect problem; they may be working to bring it under control for you. You can avoid using pesticides that harm beneficial insects by exploring other control options. Physically remove pest insects from their host plants with a jet of water from your garden hose, or hand pick them into a bucket of soapy water. Be sure that you are providing your landscape plants with the conditions they need to thrive; healthy plants are less likely to be subject to pest and disease problems. When shopping for new plants, be sure to select pest and disease resistant varieties whenever you can.

Resist the temptation to rush spring growth with heavy applications of fertilizer. Lawns, if fertilized now, will be much more prone to disease when hot, humid weather arrives. Heavily fertilized trees and shrubs are better hosts for aphids, scale insects, and diseases such as fire blight. Make a mental note to fertilize in the autumn when most plants are making new root growth and are best able to use the nutrients you apply. Spring flowering bulbs are an important exception to this rule. Fertilize them as the flowers fade to promote healthy foliage that will result in a bigger bulb and more flowers next spring.

Check azaleas, andromeda, and rhododendrons for lace bug hatchlings. Look at last year’s foliage; if you notice yellow stipples on the leaves, it is likely that last year’s lace bugs laid eggs on the underside of the leaves. The black eggs are well camouflaged by the tarry black excrement left by the adult lace bugs. It is easiest to detect them using the beat test. Place a white sheet of paper under the foliage and tap the plant vigorously. Young lace bugs are black, spiny, and no larger than a pinhead. If you detect large numbers of them, spray infested plants with horticultural oil, insecticidal soap, or a pesticide containing acephate.

Ovulinia petal blight may cause azalea flowers to turn tan and mushy if rainy weather coincides with their bloom. Apply a fungicide labelled for petal blight to your azaleas when the flower buds have begun to show color. The life of the flowers may be prolonged by as much as two weeks with this treatment.

Discover Dill

Dill (Anethum graveolens), a member of the carrot family, has been a favorite culinary herb for centuries. It is valued both for its flavorful foliage and for its pungent seeds. The name “dill” comes from an old Norse word, “dilla,” which means “to lull,” this plant having been frequently prescribed as a tea to treat insomnia and digestive problems. In the Middle ages it was regarded as a charm against witchcraft. In modern times its essential oil is used in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and liqueurs.

Dill is a delightful herb with many culinary uses. Native to southern Europe, it is a staple in Greek cooking. It is common in Scandinavian and German food as well. Fresh or dried, dill leaves add a distinctive flavor to salads, fish, vegetable casseroles and soups. Used whole or ground, dill seeds add zest to breads, cheeses, and salad dressings. The seeds are the best way to use dill in dishes that require cooking over a long time. Of course, dill is best known as a pickling herb for cucumbers, and also green beans, carrots, and beets.

Annuals, dill plants die each year, but their seeds can winter over in the soil to pop up the following year. Dill grows well in gardens throughout the US and southern Canada (zones 3-10).

Dill as an Ornamental
Dill adds an ornamental element wherever it grows. Combine it with flowers in a bed or border. Its fern like foliage provides a soft background for smaller sun-loving petunias, daisies, marigolds and others. Plant it with other herbs near the kitchen or in containers such as windowboxes or planters so its fine texture contrasts with the coarser

foliage of basil, mints and others. Its yellow umbrella-like flowers make great cut flowers.

In the garden they attract beneficial insects, including bees, parasitic wasps, and tachinid flies. In orchards, it attracts insects that control codling moths and tent caterpillars. Wherever dill blooms it contributes to the welfare of neighboring plants.

Recognizing Dill
Common garden dill grows 3 to 5 feet tall, but dwarf versions grow from 24 to 36 inches tall. Its distinguishing feature is its narrow foliage. Its nickname “dillweed” refers to its multiple feathery, bluish-green fronds, which branch readily from the single round, hollow main stalk that emerges from its taproot.

When they mature, dill plants develop tiny yellow flowers that bloom in flat, lacy clusters resembling airy umbrellas. They eventually develop dark brown seeds that are narrow, ribbed, and flattened. About one-sixth of an inch long, their pungent flavor is similar to caraway seeds, which are cousins.

Growing Dill
Properly sited and planted, dill is so fastgrowing that some of its foliage is mature enough to be harvested in only eight weeks. Plan to sow several crops in succession, three weeks apart, to assure a supply over the entire growing season. Dill does best in full sun (with a bit of afternoon shade in the South). While fairly tolerant of poor soil conditions, it prefers a sandy or loamy soil that drains well. It is a light feeder, so extra fertilizer is not necessary in a reasonably fertile soil.

To sow seeds directly into the garden in rows, trace shallow 1/4 to 1/2 inch deep indentations in the soil with a stick or pencil to guide planting. Then dribble the tiny seeds through your thumb and forefinger into the indented rows. Mixing them first with some dry sand distributes them more evenly. Firm soil over the rows of seeds and water softly. Expect to see sprouts in 10 to 14 days. For a more naturalistic planting, scatter the seeds over a patch

of ground; cover with 1/2 inch of soil, and water.

Choose an overcast day or wait until late afternoon to plant homegrown or commercially raised young seedlings so they will not have to cope with hot sun as they overcome transplant shock. Dig holes in the prepared soil in the planting area about the size of the containers the seedlings are growing in. Space the plants 8 to 10 inches apart if harvesting leaves, or 10 to 12 inches apart if harvesting seed. Gently pop each seedling from its container by tapping it on the bottom of the pot. Take great pains to avoid disturbing the taproot that has formed. Set a plant in each hole and firm the soil over the rootball and around its stem to support it. Water immediately. Shield new transplants from bright sun the first day or two while they cope with the shock of transplanting. Depending on the variety, these fast-growing dill plants will grow to maturity and set seed in about 60 days.

Growing Dill in Containers
Dill, especially dwarf type, grows very well in containers alone or with other plants. It is a good companion for other sun-lovers like flowering annuals, other herbs, or vegetables such as patio tomatoes. Use a container that is at least 10 inches deep to accommodate its taproot. Be sure the container has drainage holes. Fill it with moistened soilless potting mix to within 2 inches of its top. Either add some granular, slow-release fertilizer to the mix before planting or plan to feed container plants once a month with a dilute general-purpose liquid fertilizer when you water. Plant the dill seedlings in the container and water them well. Keep them out of bright sun the first day or so while they adjust to their new situation. Water often to prevent the container plants from drying out during hot summer days. Because dill matures relatively quickly, spent plants will have to be replaced with new ones during the season.

Caring for Dill
When growing from seed, reduce crowding by pulling up weak, spindly sprouts to allow 2 to 6 inches of space between them. Dill prefers fairly moist soil throughout the growing season. Once plants have established good root

systems, water only when rainfall is sparse if your soil is decent and mulched. In thin, poor and unmulched soil, dill needs watering a couple of times a week when it does not rain. If possible, avoid overhead watering in favor of a drip or porous hose system.

Spread a 2 to 4 inch layer of mulch on the soil around the plants when they are about 6 inches tall to discourage competing weeds. Mulch also helps keep soil moist and contributes organic matter to the soil as it gradually breaks down over the season. As the mulch decomposes in the summer heat, add more to maintain optimal mulch depth.

Harvesting and Storing Dill
Dill leaves taste better picked just before flowers form on the plant. Start picking the fresh leaves just as soon as they are large enough to use. Pick early in the morning or in the late evening, clipping them close to the stem. If you prefer to harvest dill seed, allow the flowers to form, bloom, then go to seed. Cut the seedheads when the majority of seeds have formed-about 2 to 3 weeks after the blossoming starts-even though some tiny florets may still be blooming. Hang the seedheads upside down by their stems in a paper bag. The seeds will fall into the bag when they mature and dry out.

Freshly picked dill leaves have the best flavor. However, they keep for several days in the refrigerator, their stems in ajar of water and covered with a plastic bag. They store for several months if you layer them with pickling salt in a covered jar in the refrigerator. When you are ready to use the leaves, simply wash them and use them as fresh.

There are several ways to store dill longer term. Dry it by hanging bunches of stems upside down in a dark, dry, airy place until they are crumbly. Store them in a tightly sealed jar away from light and use within 4 to 6 months. Or use a food dehydrator according to instruction in its package. Freeze dill by cutting the leaveslong stems and all-into sections short enough to fit into plastic bags. Do not chop the leaves into bits because fragrance and flavor will be lost. They will keep in the freezer for 6 months.

Dill Problems
Dill is typically a disappearing target for pests. Its rapid growth and quick harvest allow little time for aphids and others to establish a presence on plants. Occasionally parsleyworms or tomato hornworms attack its foliage. Handpick parsleyworm and transfer it to another favorite, Queen Anne’s lace, so it can survive to become a butterfly. Hand pick hornworms and drop them into a plastic bag to discard in the trash.

Dill Varieties
‘Fernleaf’ Dill is a 1992 All America Selection winner. This unique dwarf dill reaches only 18 inches tall, so it needs no staking. It is also slow to go to seed, which gives you more time to harvest leaves. ‘Fernleaf’ dill is an excellent plant for container growing and looks great in flower arrangements.
‘Dukat’ also known as ‘Tetra’ is grown for its abundant foliage, which is perfect for salads. The seeds are great for seasoning various condiments. Sow seed in clumps. This variety is considered a tender annual, so start seeds indoors 4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost and transplant young seedlings outdoors after all frost danger is well past.
· ‘Superdukat’ introduced in 1997, has tall, more uniformly straight stems for easy harvesting. It is reported to have more essential oil than ‘Dukat’.
‘Bouquet’ is an early bloomer that sports large seedheads and dark bluegreen foliage. Ideal for pickling.
‘Long Island’ or ‘Mammoth’ dill is so reliable that it is commonly grown by commercial growers.

Integrated Pest Management

Begin monitoring conifers for spruce spider mites. These small, dark arachnids are active in cool weather and can be found on pines, hemlocks, arborvitae, and spruce and are especially damaging to Norway and dwarf Alberta spruce. Look for stippling on the needles and webbing in between the needles on the underside of the branches. A simple beat test is also a good way to detect their presence. Tap a branch over a white sheet of paper and look for tiny, slow moving, yellowish green mites. Also look for faster moving predatory mites or tiny, round black ladybird beetles that feed on the mites. If a beat test reveals more than twenty mites per beat, and you do not see predatory mites or ladybird beetles, you should treat your tree with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap.

Begin checking your dwarf white pines for white pine tip dwarf mites. Unlike most mites, white pine tip dwarf mites like cool weather and are most active in early spring. They cause older needles to become yellow and drop, and, if the tree is severely infested, it can become completely defoliated just before new foliage emerges in the spring. Beat test your trees weekly in early spring by tapping a branch on a piece of paper. Using a magnifying glass or 10x hand lens, look for very small, translucent yellowish mites moving across the paper. If you see more than fifty mites per beat test, you should treat the tree with an acaracide like neem oil. If you are designing a new landscape or are making changes in your current scheme, consider planting a resistant species like Japanese white pine.

Practicing good sanitation is an environmentally sound and effective means of controlling disease and insect pests in your landscape. Take the time to dispose of debris that may harbor overwintering pests. When replacing problem plants or adding new plants to your landscape plan, consider using pest-resistant varieties.

March is a good month for tending to your lawn. When reseeding, select pest- and disease- resistant tall fescue. Rake up debris and dead leaves that have accumulated during the winter months. Sharpen mower blades and start mowing early to discourage annual weeds that will be going to seed. Know the proper mowing height of the turf you are planting. Bluegrass and red fescue should be mowed to 2-3″, tall fescue to 2-4″, and zoysia and Bermuda grass to 1″.

You can reduce the need for insecticides in your landscape by using plants that attract beneficial insects. Ladybird beetles, hover flies, lacewings, spiders, and parasitic wasps are natural enemies of plant damaging insects like aphids, mites, whitefly, scale, and thrips.

Plant Attracts
common yarrow ladybird beetles, wasps, hover flies
coriander lacewings, hover flies, braconid wasps, spiders
cosmos lacewings, overflies, braconid wasps, spiders
fennel lacewings, ladybird beetles, hover flies, spiders
Queen Anne’s lace lacewings, ladybird beetles, hover flies, braconid wasps
spearmint lacewings, ladybird beetles, hover flies, spiders
sweet alyssum hover flies, spiders
hover flies, braconid wasps

Don’t let the first warm days of spring tempt you to put your houseplants outdoors. Tropical plants are easily injured by temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit, so wait until the weather has settled to move them.

The Earth

What is this mysterious substance in the soil that makes it dark in color, very fertile, and which gardeners talk about so reverently? Growers affectionately call this substance Black Gold, but in the scientific world it is known as humus. Humus gives healthy earth its characteristic color, smell, and fertility. The object of the grower is to have rich healthy soil so crops will be vigorous and productive.

Chemically, humus is incredibly complex and defies precise analysis by soil scientists. It best can be described as consisting of decomposed organic matter, along with the remains of soil microorganisms, and is extremely rich in nutrients. When humus is increased in the soil it creates and maintains a soil that has the capacity to produce crops year after year without using chemical fertilizers.

In nature, humus accumulates very slowly over decades. But human intervention can speed up the process by incorporating large amounts of organic matter in the soil. When organic matter is digested (decomposed) by soil microbes – bacteria, fungi, etc. – humus is created.

A faster way to hasten the formation of humus is by composting garden and kitchen wastes and incorporating the finished compost into the soil. Compost is the mixing of organic matter that is high in carbon (such as dried leaves) with material that is high in nitrogen (such as fresh grass clippings). This combination leads to a population explosion of microorganisms and promotes rapid decomposition. Finished compost has reached a stage in its disintegration at which it is an ideal food for plants – a high-quality humus.

Applying a three-inch layer of finished compost and digging to a depth of six inches with a spading fork or tiller – three years in a row – accomplishes what it took nature at least 100 years to do – produce a rich fertile soil.

Though low in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potash when compared to chemical fertilizers, humus produces tremendous growth response in plants. One reason for such a response is its ability to release nutrients over a long period of time. Also, humus contains all the known trace elements plants need, thus ensuring against malnutrition.

Release of nutrients
Humus feeds the plants in two ways:

Fast nutrient release: As organic matter decomposition occurs, plant tissues break down into a number of substances. Some of the resulting products are released into the air and plant roots absorb others. Under these conditions humus is very soluble and will make available a flood of nutrients.

Slow nutrient release: Eventually, the easily decomposed food is exhausted, and more resistant compounds remain releasing nutrients very slowly and holding them in a stable form. This includes compounds of plant residues, such as waxes and lignin, that don’t readily decompose but become stable and fairly resistant to further decomposition. This is the humus that remains in the soil for long periods of time, some times up to a thousand years.

Benefits of humus
Some of the benefits that humus provides are:

Retains water. Like a sponge, humus retains moisture while at the same time aerating the soil. It can hold the equivalent of 80 to 90 per cent of its weight in water. Soil is more drought resistant when it is rich in humus.

Develops good soil structure. Humus gives soil a crumbly texture, which permits air to circulate. The secretions of soil microbes holds the soil particles together in a desirable crumb structure. This makes soil light and fluffy and easier to work.

Retains nutrients. Humus retains nutrients in the soil in a form that is readily available to plants. A reserve of humus provides additional plant nutrients in times of need. It is all but impossible to have too much humus in the soil.

Improves soil. With the help of humus the soil is improved. It resists compaction, is easier to cultivate, allows plant roots to penetrate, breaks up clay, and holds sand particles together. Stable humus improves the soil’s physical qualities and is most beneficial as a soil amendment.

Enhances plant health. Organic matter feeds the microorganisms that aid the plants and soil. These microorganisms protect plants from disease and insect damage by actively decomposing humus in such great numbers that they prevent plant-destroying fungi and other pathogens from establishing themselves.

Traps soil toxins. Humus can immobilize and prevent many toxic metals from becoming available to plants or other soil organisms.

Balances pH. Humus has a pH of about 7 (nearly neutral) and moderates excessive acid or alkaline conditions in the soil. When added to an acidic soil it will bring up the pH. When added to an alkaline soil it will bring down the pH.

Ways to build humus
As substitutes for the application of compost, organic matter can be increased by:

Green manures and cover crops which are grown to provide a source of organic matter. They are not harvested but tilled into the soil before the plants mature. This is one of the easiest ways to increase organic matter.

Mulch, which is used to control, weeds and protect the soil from extreme temperatures, but it also is a way of building humus if it is incorporated in the soil after the season is over. It will decompose as microorganisms and earthworms mix the mulch with the soil.

Sheet Composting which involves spreading organic material directly on top of the soil to decompose in place and to be turned under after decomposition. When sheet composting animal manure, it is best to apply it in the fall and to turn it under right away. This prevents the loss of nitrogen.

Trench-composting which is layers of buried organic material in a trench that is covered with soil and left to decompose for one season.

At the Rodale Institute they believe that a healthy soil is the foundation needed for a healthy food system. Healthy soil produces healthy crops, healthy livestock, and – ultimately – healthy people. This is why I work so hard to make sure there is an adequate supply of humus in my soil.

February Home and Garden Tips

Many gardeners like to start their own vegetable and flower transplants. This is a good way to obtain unusual varieties found only in catalogs. To get started you will need to have a suitable growing medium and plenty of light to produce strong healthy transplants. Growing mixes made of peat moss, perlite or vermiculite are ideal. Unless you have a south facing window with strong sunlight, trying to germinate and grow seedlings on a window sill is usually not very successful. To overcome a low light problem you can grow transplants under fluorescent lights to supplement or replace natural light. Cool white tubes work very well. Suspend the light fixture about six inches above the seedlings. Leave the light on for about 14 – 16 hours per day. Sow the seeds indoors approximately 5-6 weeks before the last frost date. In Central Maryland the last frost date is May 10th and in warmer areas of the state this date is April 25th. Transplants need to be conditioned for the outdoor environment before planted. Do this by placing their flats outdoors on nice days in a semi-shaded location for a week before transplanting them to their permanent location.

Pansies are a colorful, early season addition to any home landscape. Pansies will soon be available and may be planted in early March. Pansies are very cold tolerant.

A red and black insect known as the boxelder bug is now becoming active in many areas. They congregate on the sunny sides of buildings and get inside. Although they do not bite, eat any stored foods nor bother houseplants they are a real pest just the same. When crushed they leave a red stain that is very difficult to remove from carpets and fabrics. If you need to control them use an insecticidal soap on their swarms outside the house. Caulk cracks and crevices around window and door frames. A more permanent solution is to remove the boxelder tree which is attracting them to your yard.

Another indoor pest common at this time are cluster flies. These flies are slightly larger than the common house fly and cluster at the inside of windows trying to get outside. They spent the winter in the house hibernating in walls and attics. Their immature stage is a parasite of earthworms. Swatting them is the only control needed indoors. No control recommended for outdoors.

Horticultural dormant oils can be applied to trees to control scales and hemlock woolly adelgids. Late winter is the usual time to do this. Do not apply horticultural oils if it is going to freeze within 24 hours.

Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Read an excerpt from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone

Warm Crostini with Blue Cheese and Walnuts

I love to serve these with a glass of sherry, a bowl of pumpkin soup, or a salad of pears and endive. The butter melts into the crisp toast; the cheese stays on top. It’s heady and very aromatic.

Makes 8

8 slices baguette or country bread
4 ounces Roquefort, Maytag, or Danish blue
3 tablespoons butter at room temperature
1 teaspoon cognac
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
Freshly milled pepper
Finely chopped parsley

Toast the bread under the broiler until nicely browned on one side, then a little less so on the second. Cream the cheese and butter until smooth, then work in the cognac and three-quarters of the walnuts and season with pepper. Spread on the paler side of the toasts, then broil until the cheese is bubbling. Remove, dust with the remaining nuts, and garnish with parsley. Serve warm.

Lentil Soup

Savored over a large part of the world, lentil soups are one of the best-liked, easiest-to-cook, and most varied of soups. The earthy flavor of lentils is complemented by Indian spices, Western herbs, cream, tomato, greens, and anything slightly tart, such as sorrel or lemon.

German brown lentils are the ones we see most commonly, and they make good soups. But the tiny French slate-green Le Puy lentils, available at specialty stores and in bulk at many natural food stores, make the prettiest and most delicious soups. They’re entirely worth the slight extra cost, and in my kitchen they are the lentil of choice. Indian red split lentils turn yellow when cooked and fall into a puree, as do other split lentils, which makes them ideal for smooth lentil soups.

Lentils don’t need to be soaked, but they do need to be picked over for tiny stones. They cook in just 25 minutes, and salt should be added at the beginning. Like most bean soups, lentil soups taste better a day after they’re made.

Lentil Minestrone

This is one of my all-time favorite soups. It’s better when cooked ahead of time, but add the cooked pasta and greens just before serving so that they retain their color and texture.

Serves 4 to 6

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra virgin to finish
2 cups finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup chopped parsley
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 carrots, diced
1 cup diced celery or celery root
Salt and freshly milled pepper
1 cup dried green lentils, sorted and rinsed
Aromatics: 2 bay leaves, 8 parsley branches, 6 thyme sprigs
9 cups water or stock
Mushroom soy sauce to taste
1 bunch greens–mustard, broccoli rabe, chard, or spinach
2 cups cooked small pasta–shells, orecchiette, or other favorite shape
Thin shavings of Parmesan, preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat the oil in a wide soup pot with the onion. Saut over high heat, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste, parsley, garlic, vegetables, and 2 teaspoons salt and cook 3 minutes more. Add the lentils, aromatics, and water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes. Taste for salt and season with pepper. If it needs more depth, add mushroom soy sauce to taste, starting with 1 tablespoon. (The soup may seem bland at this point, but the flavors will come together when the soup is finished.) Remove the aromatics.

Boil the greens in salted water until they’re tender and bright green, then chop them coarsely. Just before serving, add the greens and the pasta to the soup and heat through. Serve with extra virgin olive oil drizzled into each bowl, a generous grind of pepper, and the Parmesan, thin shards or grated.

Winter Squash Soup with Fried Sage Leaves

The technique used to make this soup can be repeated for other soups, the seasonings–be they sweet or spicy–varied to suit your tastes. Although the soup is good without it, the cheese adds a flavor note that punctuates the natural sweetness of the squash. The Warm Crostini with Blue Cheese and Walnuts are also an excellent accompaniment.

Serves 4 to 6

2 1/2 to 3 pounds winter squash
1/4 cup olive oil, plus extra for the squash
6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
12 whole sage leaves, plus 2 tablespoons chopped
2 onions, finely chopped
Chopped leaves from 4 thyme sprigs or 1/4 teaspoon dried
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Salt and freshly milled pepper
2 quarts water or stock
1/2 cup Fontina, pecorino, or ricotta salata, diced into small cubes

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Halve the squash and scoop out the seeds. Brush the surfaces with oil, stuff the cavities with the garlic, and place them cut sides down on a baking sheet. Bake until tender when pressed with a finger, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a small skillet, heat the 1/4 cup oil until nearly smoking, then drop in the whole sage leaves and fry until speckled and dark, about 1 minute. Set the leaves aside on a paper towel and transfer the oil to a wide soup pot. Add the onions, chopped sage, thyme, and parsley and cook over medium heat until the onions have begun to brown around the edges, 12 to 15 minutes. Scoop the squash flesh into the pot along with any juices that have accumulated in the pan. Peel the garlic and add it to the pot along with 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and the water and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, partially covered, for 25 minutes. If the soup becomes too thick, simply add more water to thin it out. Taste for salt.

Depending on the type of squash you’ve used, the soup will be smooth or rough. Puree or pass it through a food mill if you want a more refined soup. Ladle it into bowls and distribute the cheese over the top. Garnish each bowl with the fried sage leaves, add pepper, and serve.

Celery Root and Potato Gratin

A broth made from the celery root trimmings replaces half of the cream usually found in potato gratins without loss of flavor or texture. Celery root has a haunting flavor that always reminds me of truffles, which are an excellent addition should you be so lucky. (If I were using truffles, I would use all cream in the dish.)

Serves 4 to 6

1 garlic clove and butter for the dish
1 celery root, about 1 pound, scrubbed
1 pound potatoes, preferably Yellow Finn or Yukon Gold
1/2 cup cream
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
Salt and freshly milled pepper
1 cup grated Gruyre

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Rub a 2-quart gratin dish with the garlic and then with butter.

Peel the celery root and put the parings in a 3-quart saucepan with 3 cups water and whatever remains of the garlic. Set a steamer over the top and bring to a boil. Quarter the root, then slice it 1/4 inch thick. Steam for 5 minutes and remove to a large bowl.

Peel the potatoes, slice them into thin rounds, and steam for 5 minutes or until tender, then add them to the celery root. Strain the cooking liquid, measure 1 1/4 cups, and mix it with the cream and mustard. Pour it over the vegetables and toss well. Season with 3/4 teaspoon salt and pepper to taste. Transfer the vegetables to the gratin dish, smooth them out, and cover with the cheese. Bake until bubbling and browned on top, about 30 minutes.

Roasted Onions on a Bed of Herbs

A spectacular-looking dish for minimal effort–perfect for the holidays. Look for onions with crisp, papery skins. They’re fine without the herbs, too.

Serves 6

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 large yellow onions, halved and peeled
Salt and freshly milled pepper
4 sage sprigs and several thyme sprigs
1 cup dry white wine or water

Heat the butter and oil in a wide skillet, then add the onions, cut sides down. Cook over medium-high heat until well browned, about 15 minutes. Check their progress occasionally–those on the outside of the pan usually take longer to cook, so partway through switch them with those in the middle. When browned, turn them over and cook on the curved side for a few minutes. Season well with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line the bottom of a 10-inch earthenware dish such as a round Spanish casserole with the herbs. Place the onions, browned side up, on the herbs and pour in the wine. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until tender when pierced with a knife, 1 hour or slightly longer. Serve warm with or without the Quick Vinegar Sauce for Onions.

Chard and Onion Omelet (Trouchia)

These Provenal eggs, laced with softened onions and chard, never fail to elicit sighs of appreciation. I’m forever grateful to Nathalie Waag for making trouchia when she came to visit–it has since become a favorite. The trick to its success is to cook everything slowly so that the flavors really deepen and sweeten.

Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red or white onion, quartered and thinly sliced crosswise
1 bunch chard, leaves only, chopped
Salt and freshly milled pepper
1 garlic clove
6 to 8 eggs, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 tablespoons chopped basil
2 teaspoons chopped thyme
1 cup grated Gruyre
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan

Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a 10-inch skillet, add the onion, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until completely soft but not colored, about 15 minutes. Add the chard and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until all the moisture has cooked off and the chard is tender, about 15 minutes. Season well with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, mash the garlic in a mortar with a few pinches of salt (or chop them finely together), then stir it into the eggs along with the herbs. Combine the chard mixture with the eggs and stir in the Gruyre and half the Parmesan.

Preheat the broiler. Heat the remaining oil in the skillet and, when it’s hot, add the eggs. Give a stir and keep the heat at medium-high for about a minute, then turn it to low. Cook until the eggs are set but still a little moist on top, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the remaining Parmesan and broil 4 to 6 inches from the heat, until browned.

Serve trouchia in the pan or slide it onto a serving dish and cut it into wedges. The gratined top and the golden bottom are equally presentable.

Souffls

Few dishes are as dramatic as a souffl. The whole dish swells like an enormous inhalation–then, within moments of serving, collapses. In spite of such drama, souffls are not at all difficult to make. You simply make a stiff bchamel, beat in egg yolks, add cheese and/or other fillings, and finally fold in billowy whisked egg whites. Vegetable souffls incorporate a cup or so of pureed vegetable into the base. They don’t rise quite as high but are still impressive. A pudding souffl is the same dish baked in a water bath, which tempers the rise but also slows the fall, giving the cook some leeway for serving as well as the further advantage of reheating. Roulades are souffls baked flat in sheet pans (jelly roll pans), then rolled around a filling and sliced or, if you prefer, cut into strips, stacked, and served like a soft, savory Napoleon.

Goat Cheese Souffl with Thyme

Of all souffls, this is my favorite. The enticing aroma of goat cheese is very seductive, and the little pockets of melted cheese are found
treasures. Although a classic souffl dish forms a high, puffed crown, I often bake this and other souffls in a large shallow gratin dish instead. It still looks marvelous, it bakes more quickly, and this way there’s plenty of crust for everyone.

Serves 4

Butter, plus 2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, for the dish
1 1/4 cups milk or cream
Aromatics: 1 bay leaf, several thyme sprigs, 2 thin onion slices
3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons flour
Salt and freshly milled pepper
Pinch cayenne
4 egg yolks
1 cup (about 4 ounces) crumbled goat cheese, preferably a Bucheron or other strong-flavored cheese
6 egg whites
Several plump thyme sprigs, leaves only

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Butter a 6-cup souffl dish or an 8-cup gratin dish and coat it with the Parmesan. Heat the milk with the aromatics until it boils. Set it aside to steep for 15 minutes, then strain.

Melt the butter in a saucepan. When foamy, stir in the flour and cook over low heat for several minutes. Whisk in the milk all at once and stir vigorously for a minute or so as it thickens, then add 3/4 teaspoon salt, a few twists of pepper, and the cayenne. Remove from heat. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time until well blended, then stir in the cheese. Don’t worry about getting it smooth.

Beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form firm peaks, then stir a quarter of them into the base to lighten the mixture. Fold in the rest, transfer to the prepared dish, then put in the center of the oven and lower the heat to 375 F. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and just a bit wobbly in the center. Remove, scatter the thyme over the top, and serve immediately.

Tofu

A good source of protein and satisfying to eat, tofu can stand in for meat and to some extent can replace dairy products and eggs. Serious tofu enthusiasts use it to replace everything from ricotta to ground beef. Personally, I find it annoying to see bland tofu masquerading as pungent feta cheese, but in some instances–in the Sesame Sauce with Tofu–its presence goes completely unnoticed.

Tofu is also good on its own. Silken tofu has a remarkably soothing, custard-like texture, while Chinese-style tofu offers chewy satisfaction that is often missed in vegetarian food. Tofu is also incredibly fast and easy to prepare. It’s something like the vegetarian equivalent of the chicken breast–amenable and ready to go, a blank canvas for many wonderful pungent Asian sauces and some Western ones as well. If you think you don’t like tofu, remember that you’ve probably enjoyed it many times in Asian restaurants.

Tofu in Coconut Sauce with Ginger and Lemongrass

This spicy-sweet Vietnamese sauce is delicious with tofu and with cubes of golden fried tempeh. Although complex-tasting, its cooking time is about 20 minutes. Serve over jasmine rice or rice noodles.

Serves 4

1 1-pound package Chinese-style firm tofu, drained
3 tablespoons peanut oil
8 shallots, thinly sliced, or 1 small white onion
Salt and freshly milled white pepper
1 bunch cilantro, the leaves plus a little of the stems
1/2 cup finely diced fresh ginger
2 tablespoons minced lemongrass, from the middle of the stalk, or grated zest of 1 lemon
1 jalapeo chile, seeded and diced
1 15-ounce can unsweetened coconut milk, plus water to make 2 cups
3 pieces galangal, optional
1 teaspoon soy sauce, preferably mushroom soy
Cilantro sprigs for garnish

Drain the tofu, then dice it into 1/2-inch cubes. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a medium skillet, add the shallots, and cook over medium heat until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Season with a few pinches salt, then add half the cilantro. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Heat a wok, add the remaining oil, and swirl it around the sides. When hot, add the ginger, lemongrass, and jalapeo. Stir-fry for about 30 seconds, add the coconut milk mixture and galangal and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, add

Copyright© 1997 by Deborah Madison
–From Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison. © November 1997 , Deborah Madison used by permission.

Enigma

Michael Cretu, the driving force behind Enigma, is back with the fourth Enigma release, and it’s a great one. ‘The Screen Behind the Mirror’ is a sweeping soundcape, a pan cultural tapestry filled with rock flourishes.

Surprises abound. The legendary choir part from “O Fortuna” from the world famous oratorio “Carmina Burana” by Carl Orff is beautifully integrated as a leitmotif, and the perfect blend of this mix peaks with “Gravity of Love”, featuring the vocals of Ruth Ann. The album works has a whole, and reveals many hidden treasures on repeated listenings.

Integrated Pest Management

As temperatures begin to warm in late winter, inspect your hemlocks for the presence of eriophyid rust mites. These plant sucking arachnids can cause needles to turn bronze and drop prematurely. To monitor these insects, place a sheet of white paper under a branch and tap vigorously. With a hand lens or magnifying glass, look for tiny, yellow, wedge-shaped mites on the paper. Also look for larger, fast-moving predatory mites that may be feeding on the pesty eriophyid mite. If you do not see any predatory mites, and if the beat test count is 50 or higher, you may want to treat the hemlock with insecticidal soap or horticultural oil. Only use horticultural oil if temperatures will be above freezing for 48 hours following application.

Wood ashes from your fireplace or wood stove are a rich source of potassium for the plants in your garden. Potassium is a major plant nutrient that is easily leached from the soil by rain. By following a few simple guidelines, you can do something good for your plants and practice an effective recycling technique. First, have your soil tested for pH level. Wood ashes are alkaline and should not be added to soil that is already testing in the alkaline range of 5.8 to 6.5. Do not use ashes from chemically treated or lead-painted wood, as these could harm your plants. Also, avoid using wood ashes around acid-loving plants like blueberries, azaleas, and rhododendrons. Apply the ashes evenly, and if possible, mix them into the soil. An average cord of wood will yield about twenty pounds of ash, which may be applied to a thousand square feet of soil. In flower beds, a good rule of thumb is one-half to one pound of ash per year per plant.

Inspect the twigs of your apple, crabapple, and cherry trees for the egg masses of the eastern tent caterpillar. The small, shiny black masses resemble Styrofoam and contain from 150 to 400 eggs. They are found near the ends of branches and can easily be pruned out. The caterpillars usually hatch in early March when the buds begin to open, spin silken tents in the crotch of the trees, and then emerge to begin feeding on the leaves. Large populations can be devastating and may defoliate the tree. Newly planted trees are especially vulnerable to stress from defoliation. If you miss the egg masses, hand picking is the best control of eastern tent caterpillars. Remove the webs by scraping them with gloved hands or by twirling them onto a stick and disposing of the nest.

Take the time to remove winter annuals like chickweed, wintercress, and annual bluegrass before they go to seed. Hand removal now will help reduce weed growth in the spring, and will cut down on the need for herbicides.

If you receive a houseplant for Valentine’s Day, it is a good idea to quarantine it from your other houseplants for a couple of weeks. It may host a harmful, unnoticed insect population that could spread to other houseplants in your home. At the end of two weeks, inspect your new plant carefully before placing it in its new location. If you discover a pest problem, such as aphids, whiteflies, or mites, treat your plant with 1% horticultural oil or insecticidal soap.

February is a good time to remove tree branches that are crowded, broken, diseased, or dead. Also, remove suckers to improve the tree’s vigor. If you suspect a tree is affected by a vascular disease, it is a good idea to sterilize your pruning tools by dipping them in a solution of disinfectant or bleach between cuts. This will prevent spreading the disease to other parts of the tree.

Feeding in February is ‘For the Birds’

February is National Wild Bird Feeding Month, the seventh observance since the event was established by the National Bird-Feeding Society.

The reason, of course, is that February is one of the most difficult times in much of the U.S. and Canada for birds to survive in the wild. For example, consider that: • A typical backyard bird doesn’t weigh as much as two nickels • They spend most of their waking hours searching for food — without the help of “hands” and “fingers” • They may consume 20% of their body weight overnight just keeping warm enough to survive • Like the mailman, they’re outside in sleet, snow, wind and cold The Society recommends: • Keep feeders full, so the birds have a dependable supply of food during cold weather • Keep feeders free of snow and ice • Offer suet, which is pure fat, a great source of energy for those backyard birds whose summer diet was mostly insects — woodpeckers, as well as chickadees and nuthatches • Stamp down the snow underneath the feeders to help the ground feeding birds, such as juncos, cardinals, blue jays and doves

People shouldn’t be discouraged if they put up a new feeder and the birds don’t flock to it immediately. Because birds find food by sight, it can take a while for them to locate a fresh source. Try putting a piece of aluminum foil on the ground near the feeder, where sunlight can be reflected and catch their eye.

Providing wild birds with food, water and shelter supplements their natural diet and helps them survive. A Wisconsin study showed that chickadees with access to feeders made it through a severe winter better than those without.

There are benefits for adults as well. Watching wild birds serves to relieve stress and can start the day on a positive note. Bringing birds into the backyard, particularly during gloomy northern winters, adds a welcome flash of color, dash of motion and splash of sound.

Wild bird feeding is the principal connection many people have with wildlife, considering the continued trend toward moving into urban areas.

In celebration of its tenth anniversary, the National Bird-Feeding Society is offering a free special report about four of the most popular bird feeders: tubular, hopper, hummingbird and suet. To receive this free bonus, just send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to NBS, Post Office Box 23R, Northbrook, IL 60065.

And to become wiser in the ways of being better friends with your backyard birds, support the not-for-profit National Bird-Feeding Society. For $15 annual support, you will receive a bi-monthly newsletter, The Bird’s-Eye reView, a copy of the informative Basics of Backyard Bird Feeding, a membership certificate and more.

Visit www.birdfeeding.org